When Archie, a black Labrador, lost his owner on a lonely Scottish station, he jumped aboard the first train home. Closed-circuit television footage shows the dog waiting for his master at the station before watching the Aberdeen to Inverness train pull in. Unable to find him, he decided to avoid a long walk home by nipping aboard the 20:38. What’s more, Archie got out at the right stop, Insch, 12 minutes along the line. "He is a very intelligent dog," his owner, Mike Taitt said. "When he couldn’t find me, he simply took the right train home. He's been on that train before. I am convinced he knew it was the right one. But who knows?"
Archie seems instinctively to have known what was good for him. He apparently knew how to find his way back to where he’d feel at home and be loved. Human beings often seem not to have this instinct. All too often we persist in courses of action which aren’t good for us. We do things which go against the grain of who we are or which threaten previously supportive relationships. We behave in ways which feel punishing rather than fulfilling. We either choose not to, or don’t know how to, return “home”.
In Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son, the lad initially can’t bring himself to go home. He fears his father’s response but also feels he doesn’t deserve the warmth and acceptance home would offer – when he does return, he offers to work in the household as a servant. Sometimes our unwillingness or inability to care for ourselves is because we believe we don’t deserve love. We can’t forgive ourselves, let alone expect others to forgive us.
Perhaps today we might check that we are not inappropriately depriving ourselves of experiencing the comfort and warmth of “home”. If we are, Archie’s uncomplicated and instinctive solution might be too simplistic, but his determination to get back to where he knows he belongs could be an inspiration.
Six golfers using orange golf balls teed off last week in the first Spitsbergen Open world ice golf tournament. The location, the Svalbard islands near the North Pole, is the northernmost inhabited region in the world. There are 3,000 residents. Rifles had to be carried to ward off polar bears but there were few trees to get in the way of a golf shot. “In order to win you have to be tough,” said the promoter of the event. “The winner took his gloves off each time it was his turn." No joke with temperatures dropping as low, with wind chill, as minus 28 degrees Celsius (minus 18 Fahrenheit.
The competitors clearly wanted to make things hard for themselves. Most of us do this without having to go to Spitzbergen. We set ourselves over-ambitious aims in life or unrealistic time schedules; we go it alone when help is available; we struggle on when tiredness or illness is telling us to stop.
Ordinary life doesn’t threaten us with polar bears or freezing temperatures. Often the dangers we face are just as real but come from within. Most of us need encouraging to regard our own well-being as more important than what we achieve. If we need persuading to treat ourselves gently, perhaps we should remember Jesus’ suggestion that loving ourselves should be a priority.
Helen Zou has not found the personal ads effective so she’s gone for something a little more upfront. A huge advertising hoarding in Sydney declares that she is a ‘beautiful, intelligent Australian Chinese lady’ who WANTS A HUSBAND.
Such a public way of indicating her need for a partner suggests she has no qualms about revealing her failure in this respect so far. Nor is she influenced by the assumption that polite people don’t tell the world what they want.
Many find telling people their needs very difficult. Childhood reprimands like ‘those who ask don’t get’ go deep into the psyche. For those from a Christian background, there’s the additional feeling that to say what you want can’t be compatible with putting other people before ourselves.
Jesus told a story about a woman who made a very public display of her needs, pestering a judge until she got what she wanted (Luke 18.1-8). Clearly God doesn’t mind being told what we want. ‘Ask and you will receive,’ Jesus said.
Perhaps today there’s something it would be perfectly appropriate for us to ask for. It may mean admitting weakness or failure; it may involve taking an unaccustomed position in the limelight; it may lead to someone else not getting their needs met this time. But those who discover how they can help us, will be pleased, just as, if Helen Zou finds a husband, he’ll be delighted she asked so boldly.
Last week’s dramatic Olympic marathon highlighted the hours of training and high levels of physical strength and endurance needed for that race. But a pill could soon be available which would remove the effort. Ronald Evans and his team at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in Washington have found that by ‘tweaking’ the PPAR-delta gene to stay in a permanently "on" position, mice grew more slow-twitch muscle fibres - the kind used by the body for endurance-type exercise. They then became able to run for an hour longer than ordinary mice. A more generally popular result of the research might be an exercise pill that would give many of the benefits of training without the need to sweat.
But would those who spend time and energy developing their fitness be so interested if it could be done without effort? Our lives are often enriched by an ambition which requires hard work and sometimes struggle to attain. The value of the achievement partly depends on the discipline required to accomplish it. Without the need to sweat, it would lose much of its attraction.
There are other aspects of our lives where a lot of effort seems to be required without it being at all rewarding. Jesus once referred to the effort people put into worrying and said it was as pointless as trying to make ourselves taller.(Matthew 6.27). We may keep struggling with a task when it would be better to give up or continue to rely on our own resources when all we need do is seek help. There often is the equivalent of the effort-reducing tablet already there for the asking.
Let’s today make sure what strength we have is used for the achieving of worthwhile goals. We can’t yet alter our genes so we have endless supplies of energy, so let’s make sure what we have is wisely used.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has reported that 5,310 people needed treatment in 2002 after falling over putting on their trousers. Up nearly 2000 on figures from 4 years ago. Down, as it were, are those ot The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has reported an increase in the number of people needing treatment after falling over putting on their trousers. On the other hand, down, as it were, are those other trouser accidents known in the trade as “zip-related mishaps”.
Clumsiness is something we’re all capable of and we can hurt ourselves quite badly. We can damage others too. Clumsy speech or thoughtless actions can be hurtful. Unconsidered comments, off the cuff remarks or behaviour that takes no account of others can slip out. They may be immediately regretted but what’s said or done cannot be withdrawn.
Practical clumsiness is often a consequence of tiredness or stress. So is clumsiness in relationships and speech. We are less likely to speak sensitively and act thoughtfully in our relationships with others when we are under pressure and not looking after ourselves. When
Jesus put loving our neighbour and loving our selves side by side, he was displaying a very practical wisdom. If we are going to avoid clumsy behaviour that causes hurt to others, we need to make sure we take good care of ourselves.
If today we need any encouragement to be kind to ourselves, we could remember that it’s likely also to make us kinder to others.